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Charter Schooling in the Buckeye State 

by Alexander Russo 



In many states with charter laws, the successes of charter schooling far outweigh the failures. In other states, how- 
ever, the story is more complicated. Ohio first passed its charter school law in 1997 and has subsequently revised it 
in an effort to address various shortcomings and improve charter school quality in the state. Now, eight years later, 
the reviews of charter schooling in Ohio are decidedly mixed. While there are many outstanding charter schools in 
the Buckeye State, there are also ongoing problems that must be resolved. 

Charter schooling helps expand educational opportunities for disadvantaged students, therefore it is essential that 
Ohio and other states get it right. To their credit, many state policymakers and charter school proponents are tak- 
ing steps to ensure the quality of charter schools. 

In this new report for the Progressive Policy Institute’s 21st Century Schools Project, Alexander Russo takes a close 
look at charter schooling in Ohio, examining the history, status quo, challenges, and the future of the charter school 
effort there. He finds terrific examples of success, but points out that there are some very real challenges, including 
strong teachers union opposition to charters and uneven quality among charter schools and authorizers that must be 
addressed to further charter school growth. Russo offers Ohio policymakers several recommendations for over- 
coming these obstacles and improving their state’s charter schooling. 

Russo’s paper is an important resource for educators, policymakers, journalists, and others with an interest in char- 
ter schooling in Ohio and nationwide. This report is the sixth in a series of PPI books that analyze state and urban 
experiences with charter schooling. Previous reports looked at California, Minnesota, Arizona, New York City, and 
Indianapolis. The next report in this series will examine charter schooling in Texas. 

A generous grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made it possible for the 21st Century Schools Project 
to produce this report. We are grateful to the Gates Foundation for their support of this project and their overall 
commitment to educational improvement. 

The 21st Century Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute works to develop education policy and foster 
innovation to ensure that America’s public schools are an engine of equal opportunity in the knowledge economy. 
The Project supports initiatives to strengthen accountability, increase equity, improve teacher quality, and expand 
choice and innovation within public education through research, publications, and articles; an electronic newslet- 
ter and daily weblog; and work with policymakers and practitioners. 

The Project’s work is a natural outgrowth of the mission of the Progressive Policy Institute, which is to be a catalyst 
for political change and renewal. Its mission is to modernize progressive politics and governance for the 21st cen- 
tury. Moving beyond the right-left debates of the last century, PPI is a prolific source of the Third Way thinking that 
is reshaping politics both in the United States and around the world. Rejecting tired dogmas, PPI brings a spirit of 
radical pragmatism and experimentation to the challenge of restoring our collective problem-solving capacities— 
and thereby reviving public confidence in what progressive governance can accomplish. 

Andrew J. Rotherham 
Director, 21st Century Schools Project 
February 2005 

Cover photo courtesy of Getty Images 

A Tou 

Nut to 
Crack i 


C barter Schooling in the Buckeye State 

ByAlexatxJer Russo 

February 2005 



Introduction 5 

History of Charter School De^elopmerit 

and LauvinONo 7 

Distinctive Characteristics of Ohio's Charter 
School Sector 14 

Chaiienges Faced by Charter Schooi Operators 
in Ohio 23 

Poiicy Recommendations 30 

Conciusion 33 



ATou^ Nut to Crack 5 


Charter schools have spread rapidly in 0 hio. Starting 
with just 15 schools in 1998, the Buckeye State is now the 
sixth- largest charter school state in the nation. It had 210 
charter schools serving 52,197 students as of September 
2004, and an additional 33 schools were scheduled to 
open in the fall.* 

Yet, that growth has happened in a combative 
pohtical environment. The Republican Party, which has 
dominated state government for the past decade, has 
been generally supportive of charter schools and other 
forms of school choice. But 0 hio's strong labor unions 
have organized vocal opposition to charter schools. 
There are three lawsuits attempting to stop charter 
schools in the state (most recently a federal lawsuit 
filed by the 0 hio E ducation Association). And a major 
public awareness campaign orchestrated by charter 
school opponents has generated reams of negative 
press about the charter movement and raised suspicions 
among many pubhc school educators and D emocratic 

"What was surprising about 0 hio was that they 
were able to get a charter school law through at all, 
given how strong the unions are there," says Mike 
PetrUli, deputy director of the Office of Innovation 
and Choice at the U.S. Department of Education. 
"They have been under a steady attack from the unions, 
more so than in any other place. 

Because of that contentious political atmosphere, 
Ohio's early charter school laws were passed in 
sometimes contradictory fits and starts. First, there was 
a pilot project for distressed school districts. That was 
quickly replaced with a broader program for the state's 
biggest urban areas. And that program was later 
broadened again, with rules covering sponsoring 
authorities changed several times along the way. 

Shaped by these and other dynamics, 0 hio's charter 
school sector is somewhat different than in other states: 
Sixty-six percent of charter school students in 0 hio attend 
schools run by education management organizations; 25 
percent of charter school students are enrolled in online 
schools; and more than one-half of Ohio's charter schools 
were at somepoint sponsored by the State Board of 
Education. (A regional education service center and a 
university-affihated council of charter schools have 
sponsored most of the remainder.^) 

Perh^s it is not surprising, then, that the performance 
of 0 hio's charter schools themselves has been rmeven. In 
the aggregate, Ohio charterschools have lowertest scores 
and proficiency rates than Ohio pubhc schools overah. 
But they also serve much higher percentages of 
disadvantaged and minority students, who are more 
challenging to educate. A few noteworthy Ohio charter 
schools are emerging as promising success stories, and 
overall charter school performance in the state spears 
to be improving. A great deal more improvement is stih 
needed, though, because there are far too many cases of 
charter schools performing poorly. 

Many of the structural obstacles to improvement 
have been removed, however. K inks in 0 hio's eariy charter 
laws have now been ironed out, and the charter movement 
seems poised to move into a period of more stable 
growth. For many observers, a state of alarm has turned 
to cautious optimism. 

Ohio's charterschools are in afragilestateof transition, 
to be sure, and ensuring the best results for 0 hio 's charter 
school students will require sustained energy and new 
pohcy commitments. Specifically, this report recommends 
ways to build the quality and supply of new charter 
schools; strengthen accountability and improve oversight; 
and improve pohtical support and advocacy. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 7 

History of Charter School Development 

and Law in Ohio 

Early Attempts 

Ohio's charter school experiment began in June 
1997, when the state Legislature passed a budget bill 
that included provisions authorizing what 0 bio calls 
"community" schools.^ 

Opponents had successfully blocked passage of a 
stand-alone charter school bill for the previous three 
years. Generally, pro-charter Republicans controlled 
both houses of the Ohio Legislature, as well as the 
governorship. But established education interests had 
managed to stymie progress on charter schools by 
rallying D emocratic lawmakers, along with a handful 
of Repubhcans. 

As in many other states, the strongest opposition 
to charters schools in Ohio came from organizations 
representing teachers and local school districts, and 
from Democratic legislators in urban districts. And 
unions play a particularly influential role in Ohio, 
compared with other parts of the country. So, by calling 
in the support of other, non-education unions, teachers 
unions were able to exert an outsized influence in the 
debate. Along with school superintendents and school 
boards, they argued that charter schools were 
unnecessary and potentially destructive to public 
schools because they would divert funding and siphon 
off the "best" students.^ 

Y et, the need for charter schools in 0 hio was clear. 
"Charter school legislation was introduced in the state 
of Ohio because parents, particularly poor parents in 
urban areas, were fed up with the existing education 
system and wanted choice and control over their 
children's education," writes Terry Ryan, state director 
of the conservative, pro -charter Thomas B. Fordham 
Foundation. By most accounts, innovation and 
excellence were secondary priorities in the existing 
school system. 

The logjam was broken when then- State Rep. Sally 
Perz (R-Toledo) approached then-Gov. George 
Voinovich (R) with an idea for a pilot charter school 
program. The program would be limited to 
northeastern Ohio and— most importantly— enacted 

not through stand-alone legislation but as an 
amendment attached to a comprehensive budget bill, 
making it much harder to block for procedural and 
substantive reasons. 

Initial Passage 

Perz's legislative tactic succeeded, and charter 
schools were launched in 0 hio, albeit on a very small 
scale. Charter proponents hke Perz considered the law 
an important first step in demonstrating the demand 
for public school alternatives and in proving the 
effectiveness of charter schools to the rest of the state. 
"It gave us the chance to show that charters could 
work, under highly controlled circumstances," says Perz. 

The legislative activity around charter schools was 
not over, however. Two months after the June 1997 
budget bill, a second piece of charter school legislation 
expanded the pilot program.® Proposed by State Rep. 
Mike Fox (R- Hamilton County), it allowed charter 
schools to be created in any of the state's eight largest 
urban school districts, known as the "Big Eight"— 
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron, Canton, 
Youngstown, Toledo, and Dayton— not just the 
northeastern part of the state. 

The motivation behind the two charter laws was 
similar: They were both expressions of dissatisfaction 
with the educational standards and performance of 
most of the urban districts in the state, as well as a 
desire to give parents more choices that might keep 
them in the public school system. But the two laws 
were not closely coordinated, and in some ways 
they actually contradicted each other. "They didn't 
have time to rethink the pilot project part of it," 
remembers John Rothwell, a former State 
Department of Education official who currently 
directs the 0 hio Charter School Sponsor Institute. 
As a result, it was unclear how the pilot, which 
created some rather unique authorizing entities in a 
specific geographic locale, meshed with the larger 
statewide program that relied more heavily on the 
existing state education bureaucracy. 


The original pilot program allowed only the Lucas 
County E ducation Service Center— aregional, pubhcly 
funded, but otherwise independent education service 
center that provides supplemental services to school 
districts in the Toledo area— and the University of 
Toledo to sponsor charter schools, along with the State 
Department of Education and local school districts. 
The idea was to conduct a small, carefully monitored 
experiment to demonstrate what high-quality charter 
schools would look like.’ 

In contrast. Fox's bill not only greatly expanded 
where charters could be established, it also gave both 
the state and school districts in the Big Eight urban 
districts the authority to create new charter schools. In 
addition, the law allowed districts in any part of the 
state to convert existing schools to charter status, 
theoretically expanding the spread of charters even 

Most of aU, the Fox brU made the state the most 
readhy available and inexpensive sponsor of charter 
schools— a role many were skeptical would play well. 
To Perz, who is no longer in the state Legislature, 
bringing the State Board of E ducation into the picture 
as a large-scale authorizer was a big mistake. "1 never 
wanted the State Board of Education to be involved," 
says Perz. "It was a bad fit from the get-go, having this 
entrepreneurial type of school housed in a big state 

In her original biU, Perz had proposed creating an 
independent statewide charter school board, separate 
from the State Board of E ducation, to oversee charters. 
But the Legislature had previously taken away several 

key oversight functions from the State Board— most 
notably, its oversight of school construction and school 
technology— so, the incoming state superintendent 
specifically asked for the Board to be given a new 
oversight role with charter schools. 

Subsequent Revisions 

Ohio's charter school law was amended twice in 
the next two years. To prevent the possibility that the 
Big Eight urban districts would block charters, new 
amendments in 1998 and 1999 permitted additional 
entities— neighboring districts in the same county, and 
joint vocational education agencies— to sponsor charters 
in the Big E ight urban districts. 

The spread of districts where charters could be 
started also continued. A 1999 biU amended the Fox 
law to allow new charters to be created in any of the 
21 urban districts in the state— and, beginning in 2000, 
any other school district in A cademic E mergency under 
0 trio's state accountabUity system.^ 

Many observers beUeve that linking the creation 
of new charter schools so closely to poor district 
performance had a long-term negative effect on how 
charters are seen in the state. While it was an 
imderstandable legislative choice at the time, connecting 
the two may have imintentionaUy created the impression 
that charter schools were largely a punitive type of 
school reform, rather than an attempt to strengthen 
pubhc education. (This issueis discussed laterin this report) 

"Ohio tried to do charters the punitive way, 
primarily," says Andy Benson, policy director for the 

Table 1: D ifferences in Early Charter School Legislation in Ohio 

Perz Amendment (AHB 215) 

Fox Bill (SB 55) 

W hat the law did 

Established a pilot charter program in the 
Toledo area 

Expanded charter schooling to the eight 
largest urban districts in the state 

Entities eligible to sponsor 
charter school startifis 

-Lucas County Service Center 
-University of Toledo* 

-State Department of Education 
-Big Eight School Districts 

Geographic areas where 
start-up charter schools 
could te located 

Lucas County 

-Big Eight urban districts (Cleveland, 
Cincinnati, Columbus, Akron, Canton, 
Youngstown, Toledo, and Dayton) 
-Allowed conversions of existing schools 
to charter status in any part of the state 

*Authority since transfened to the Ohio Council of Community Schools. 

SOURCE: "Community Schools in Ohio: Implementation Issues and the Impact on Ohio's Education System," Legislative 0 ffice of Education 
Oversight, April 2003, http:/ / rq)orts/ PreE leSecPD F/ lCS_wd).pdf. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 9 

KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a Cincinnati-based 
education reform group. "If you come to me and 
say 'I'm going to kick your behind,' I might innovate, 
but I just as well might decide to fight," says Benson. 
"The unions fought, the school boards fought, and 
none of the public schools districts that had the 
authority chartered schools [in large numbers]." 

Former legislator Perz agrees with that 
assessment for the most part. She says: "We're still 
operating under the philosophy that if a school district 
is bad enough, then you get choice, instead of taking 
the approach that parents should have choices no 
matter what." 

Problems Emerge 

N egative reports about charter schools surfaced 
in 2000, and a series of articles in the A kron Beacon 
Journal criticized the State D epartment of Education 
for "rubber-stamping" charter school contracts 
without adeguate review.^ 

In the most prominent case, the state was forced 
to revoke the charter of the Riser Mhitaiy Academy 
in Columbus for not having textbooks, computers, or 
adequate facilities, and for failing to comply with 
provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 
There were also reports of physical abuse at the school. 
In other press accounts, there were allegations that one 
school had to hold class in the public library, another 
virtual school never gave computers to students to use 
at home, and others had substandard facihties.'° 

"Some charters turned out to be duds," recalls 
Michael Petrilh of the U.S. Department of Education, 
who formerly worked with charters in Ohio through 
his position at the Fordham Foundation. "Everyone 
was in a rush; another year of planning would have 
done a lot of good." The quick spread of charter 
schools in 0 hio helped the reform movement grow 
rapidly, but created significant problems in terms of 
regulating charter school quahty.'^ 

Current Law 

Concerns about Ohio's charter schools spiked in 
2002, when a scathing state audit chastised the State 
Board of Education for poor monitoring of charter 
school finances.'^ The audit was conducted in response 
to the closing of at least eight charter schools for the 
absence of adequate financial reporting and possible 

Table 2: Progress of C barter School 
Authority in 0 hio 


District Eiigibiiity 


Toledo Area 


Big Eight 


21 Urban Districts 


Academic Emergency 


Academic W atch 

SO URGE : Ryan, Teny, "A Wide-Angle Look at the Charter School 
Movement in Ohio/ Dayton, Circa September 2004," Thomas B. 
Fordham Foundation, September 2004, http:/ / www.edffiodlaioend/ dod 
C barters diools_ D ayton_ 0 hio2 0 0 4 .pdf. 

financial mismanagement. It called for strengthening 
the State Department of Education's role and 
responsibility in charter school payments, and 
recommended that charter school operators and 
personnel be required to receive financial management 
training and that better monitoring be done of charter 
school student enrollments, which were frequently in 
dispute. The audit suggested that the State Board of 
Education improve oversight of its 92 Ohio charter 
schools or transfer authority to another entity, and it 
called for a broader pool of charter sponsors. 

Largely in response to the audit's findings, the 
Legislature made comprehensive revisions to the state's 
charter school law in early 2003.^^ In essence, the 2003 
changes took the Board out of the business of being a 
charter school sponsor, and refocused it on overseeing 
other sponsors, conducting training sessions for school 
personnel, and monitoring the overall quahty of charter 
schools in the state. 

To take the state's place in sponsoring charters, the 
law now permits aU of Ohio's public universities to 
act as sponsors, not just the University of Toledo. The 
law also allows other county education service centers 
to be sponsors, not just Lucas County. And it establishes 
qualifying standards for nonprofit organizations to 
become sponsors, with state approval. 


A "Home-Grown" Charter School: Citizens^ Academy, Cle\^and, Ohio 

Not dll of Ohio's charter schools are marked by controversy. A particularly noteworthy success story is 
Citizens' Academy, established in Cleveland in 1998. 

C itizens' Academy is a stand-alone grammar school that is not run by an education management organization. 
It was co-founded by an experienced public school principal, and its current executive director is a former 
social worker.lts nonprofit board includes some of the most prominent educators, philanthropists, and community 
leaders in the city. 

The school serves 300 students in kindergarten through 5th grade. Its student population is 95 percent 
African-American and 85 percent low-income. Its teachers are well paid— roughly $42,000 a year, on average— 
and executive director Perry W hite says the rationale for that is pretty simple:"W e're not asking our teachers to 
subsidize their own work." 

Unlike many other charters in the state. Citizens' Academy also generates private financial support to 
supplement state funds. "There is no way we could successfully educate these children without tremendous 
outside support," says Mr.W hite. The school recently secured funding for a summer school program, and raised 
over $100,000 in its first annual drive, according to W hite. 

But Citizens' Academy was not an overnight success.The high ideals that drove the school's founding were 
tempered by hard realities, including students who were further behind than anyone expected, and the mundane 
logistics of operating a school. "It took us five years to get it right," saysW hite. 

The school was originally founded on ideals of creativity, expressiveness, and problem-solving. But it went 
through the "roughest start-up you've ever seen," W hite says."We started out too high, and assumed basic skills 
would be in place." But since the students were not prepared academically, the curriculum had to undergo 
significant revisions. Initial plans to run the school an extra four weeks a year also had to be scrapped. 

And yet, the Academy now appears to be making gains.The percentage of 4th grade students passing the 
state test in literacy went up from 12 percent in 2002 to 81 percent in 2004. The school ranks in the middle 
rung of the Ohio state ratings categories (indicating that it has made Continuous Improvement), and it has met 
four of the seven state performance standards for 2003-2004. 

Not surprisingly, there were nearly 300 students on the waiting list to get into the school during the fall of 
2004. To meet growing demand, W hite would like to open a middle school and a preschool program as well. 

SOURCES: "Ohio State 2004 Report Card Individual School Report," Ohio Department of Education, 
Buildings.aspx; "Citizens' Academy 2002-2003 Annual Report," Citizens' Academy, 2003. 

The changes in sponsoring authority have left many 
charter schools in need of new sponsors. The new law 
gives those that had been sponsored by the state two 
years (until July 2005) to transfer their sponsorship to 
another entity. After that, the state is only allowed to 
step in as a sponsor in cases where it has revoked 
another sponsor's authority. 

Just as important as the changes in sponsoring 
authority, the law allows new charters to be created in 
a much broader set of districts, including any that are 
under Academic Watch or Academic Emergency, the 
two lowest ratings a district can receive under 0 hio 
law. (Previously, charters had been permitted only in 
the bottom category.) In 2003-2004, 38 districts were 
under Academic Watch or in Academic Emergency, 

representing 6 percent of the districts in the state and 
a much larger percentage of students.'^ The number 
of districts under W atch or E mergency status has been 
much larger in the past, and is expected to rise again in 
2004-2005 when the minimum requirements for 
districts will increase under the federal N o Child Left 
Behind Act. 

The new charter law also temporarily limits the total 
number of new start-up charters that can operate statewide 
to 225. The cap does not apply to charter school 
conversions, however, including many district- sponsored 
virtual schools, and it expires on July 1, 2005. 

Also in 2003, the state revamped many of its 
operational procedures, as suggested by the 2002 audit. 
Enrollment figures are now updated monthly through 

ATou^ Nut to Crack II 

a new online system, and payment schedules are 
adjusted more frequently as well. The Ohio 
D epartment of E ducation also reconciles enrollment, 
financial, and other information to ensure that it is 
accurate and timely. In addition, the law modified 
charter school funding systems to adjust funding for 
community schools monthly, based on online reports 
of student enrollment, rather than on an annual basis, 
as is the case for public schools. 

While not particularly glamorous, these 
fundamental aspects of the system are "phenomenally 
better" than they were in the past, according to Steve 
Buiigana, the state department official who oversees 
charter schools.^® Buiigana credits the efforts of the 
State Department of Education and the charter 

schools, spurred by the updated law, for easing many 
administrative and operational problems. "Before you 
can have effective education, the fundamentals have 
to be there," Buiigana observes. 

The 2003 reforms did not end the legislative or 
pohtical debate about charter schooling, however, since 
the reforms were accompanied by continued growth 
of charter schools around the state and ongoing 
struggles to improve academically^’ Charter opponents 
recently re-introduced charter moratorium bills, which 
are now pending the Ohio General Assembly.’^ 
0 pponents have also filed a lawsuit against the state in 
federal court claiming that charter schools in Ohio 
violate the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. 

An Emergng Challenge:The Responsibilities of Authorizers 

N ationally, charter school authorizers (commonly referred to as "sponsors" in Ohio) have the legal 
power to charter schools by negotiating performance contracts with the schools' operators. Those 
contracts grant schools autonomy in exchange for accountability.The entities entitled to act as charter 
authorizers vary by state, but they frequently include local school boards, state boards of education, 
public universities, independent chartering agencies, and nonprofit organizations. 

Q uality authorizers closely monitor schools after they are chartered— evaluating the schools' academic 
performance, monitoring their compliance with the terms of their charters, informing them of intervention 
and renewal decisions, and ensuring their autonomy. But the failure of some charter school authorizers 
to effectively carry out their responsibilities has drawn the attention of policymakers. For example, when 
0 hio passed legislation in 2003 that broadened the pool of eligible authorizers in the state, some legislators, 
troubled by previous reports of fraudulent authorizing practices, feared that the law would bring a new 
wave of unscrupulous nonprofit organizations seeking approval as sponsors just to generate revenue. 
That concern that has not been validated. 

In fact, the bigger challenge has been recruiting new sponsors in Ohio. Unlike previous eligible 
authorizers (which were all government entities), nonprofits and education service centers wishing to 
sponsor schools must be approved by the State Department of Education. Some nonprofit organizations 
have struggled to gain approval because of requirements that they have more than $500,000 in assets 
and have been in existence for at least five years. In addition, nonprofit organizations are concerned 
about possible liability issues that may come with being a charter authorizer, and want to make sure that 
their individual board members and endowments would be protected if schools previously chartered 
by another authorizer incur substantial debt. N onprofits are also concerned that they will not be able to 
raise enough in sponsorship fees to cover the costs of running high-quality authorizing operations, and 
many lack the resources to cover costly start-up and transition costs. 

Over all, approximately a dozen organizations have applied to become sponsors in the year since the 
new legislation passed.To date, four education service centers have been accepted by the state as sponsors, 
and three of eight nonprofit applicants have been approved. 


Table 3: Features of 0 hio's C urrent C barter School Law 

General Statistics 

N umber of charter schools allowed 

225 start-ups In Big Eight districts, the state's 21 urban districts, and districts 
reported to be In Academic Emergency or Academic W atch.The cap of 225 
start-ups expires In July 2005.) An unlimited number of conversion charters 
are also allowed. 

N umber of charter schools currently 

243 (Including conversion charters not counted under the cap) 

Approval Process for Charter Schools 

Eligible chartering authorities 

- Local school board or joint board In the county In which the community 
school will be located 

- State Board of Education (until 2005) 

- The boards of trustees of the state's 13 public universities, or their 
designated sponsoring authorities 

- The governing board of any state-approved educational service center 

Types of charter schools 

Start-up schools and converted public schools 

Eligible applicants 

Any Individual or group 

Formal evidence of local support 


Appeals process? 

N one 

Terms of charters granted 

U p to 5 years 


Automatic waiver from most state and 
district education laws, regulations, and 

Yes, unless specified within the unique charter 

Legal autonomy? 


Form of governance 

Specified In each unique charter 

For-profit organizations 

Cannot apply for charters, but can manage charter schools 

Facilities assistance 

Schools may negotiate with districts to lease public school facilities; charter 
schools also have access to lease-purchase agreements 

Reporting requirements 

Annual report cards for parents and sponsors. Including academic and 
financial Information; required participation In state's Education Management 
Information System 

ATou^N lit to Crack 13 



Funds pass directly from state to schools 


Community schools receive 100 percent of the state-based formula funds, as well as an 
adjustment to reflect variations in costs among different parts of the state 



Start-up funds 

- N ew charter schools may receive grants of up to $50,000 in state funds for start-up 
costs, and may apply for additional federal funds up to $450,000 

- Schools may also seek public or philanthropic grants, foundation support, and private 


Collective bargaining 

- Teachers in conversion schools remain part of district collective bargaining 
agreements for at least one year, unless a majority within a school petitions to 
organize as a separate bargaining unit 

- Charter school teachers in new start-ups may work independently or create 
bargaining units 


- Required, but alternate certifications allowed 

- Uncertified teachers may teach up to 12 hours per week 

Leaves of absence from district 

At least three years are permitted, if teachers from district want to work in 
conversion or start-up charters in that same district 

Retirement benefits 

Participation in state's retirement system 


Eligible students 

All students are eligible 

Preference for enrollment 

- Previously enrolled students (for conversion charter schools), district residents, and 

- The racial demographics of the charter school must represent the demographics of 
the district 

Enrollment requirements 

- Schools must enroll at least 25 students 

- Schools may limit enrollment to students in a certain geographic area or at-risk 

Selection method 

Random lottery 

At-risk provisions 

Schools may restrict enrollment to at-risk students 


Each charter must provide a plan describing academic goals and the method of 
measurement to analyze student performance: the plans must include statewide 
proficiency tests 

SO URGES: The author; Center for Education Reform (http:/ / www.edreform.oom/ index ,c6n?fiise4 ction=cLaw& statelD =33); Ohio State D epartment 
of Education; updates by PPI researchers. 


Distinctive Characteristics of Ohio’s 
Charter School Sector 

N umber of Schools 

Student Demographics 

The spread of charter schools in Ohio has been 
steady and strong: The first wave of 15 charter schools 
was sponsored in 1998 by Lucas County and the State 
Board of Education. The following year, the number 
of charter schools more than tripled to 48 schools. By 
2000, almost all of the eight eligible districts had at 
least one charter school. 

As of 2003-2004, there were 25 school districts in 
Ohio with at least one charter school.^® Some districts, 
such as Dayton, Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus, had 
^proximately 20 charter schools each. The Big Eight 
school districts, which account for roughly 25 percent of 
statewide pubhc school enrollment, account for more 
than two-thirds of the state's charter school enrollment. 

In aU, C hio's charter schools served approximately 
46,000 students last year, or roughly 2.5 percent of 
C hio's 1 .8 million students.^® That makes C hio the sixth- 
largest charter school state in the nation.^^ 

Table 4: N umber of C barter Schools and 
Student Enrollment by Year 


Charter Schools 



1998 - 1999 



1999 - 2000 



2000 - 2001 



2001 - 2002 



2002 - 2003 



2003 - 2004 



2004 - 2005 


60 , 000 * 

*Early estimate based on most recent student data. 

SOURCES: Ohio Department of Education; Ohio Chaiter Schools Association. 

Because C hio's law was sparked by discontent with 
urban school performance, and expansions focused 
on high-poverty, low-performing urban school 
districts, 0 hio's charter schools serve higher percentages 
of poor and minority students than other public 
schools in the state. 

In 2003-2004, the average percentage of minority 
students in 0 hio's charter schools was 75 percent, and 
the average percentage of disadvantaged students was 
63 percent.^^ The median percentages were much higher. 

These percentages were much higher than in the 
rest of the state's public schools, or any of the individual 
districts, with the exception of Cleveland in which 
charter schools were located.^^ Statewide, 22 percent 
of Ohio students are nonwhite (the vast majority 
African-American), and 31 percent are economically 
disadvantaged. Figures for disabled students and 
English Language Learners were not available in 
time for this report. 

Important Trends 

□ Continued Spread of Chaiters 

Compared to some other states where the rate 
of charter school growth has slowed over time, 
growth in 0 hio has been both rapid and sustained. 
The 1997 laws and subsequent amendments allowed 
for the creation of charters in most of the highly 
populated parts of the state. There are also online 
charters serving students from other areas.^^ Last 
year, 41 new charter schools were created in 0 hio, 
bringing the 2004-2005 statewide total to 243 
charter schools, serving approximately 60,000 

□ Multiple, Unconventional Authoiizeis 

Like many states, Ohio allows local school 
districts to authorize charter school conversions. 

ATou^N lit to Crack 15 

and, in certain geographic areas, new charters. Unlike 
many states, 0 hio has also allowed an increasingly 
broad array of unconventional charter school 
authorizers, starting with the Lucas County 
Educational Service Center, the Ohio Council of 
Community Schools (which began as part of the 
University of Toledo), and the State Board of 
E duration. J oint vocational agencies and neighboring 
districts are also eligible as sponsors. And now 
nonprofit organizations and any of the state's 13 
public universities are eligible to sponsor charter 

Yet, while local school districts and vocational 
agencies are allowed to sponsor charter schools, Lucas 
County, the Ohio Council, and the State Board of 
Education sponsored the vast majority of new 
charters in the state before 2005. Individual school 
districts and vocational education sponsors have tended 
to sponsor just one or two schools— many of them 
relatively small ones. Conversions have been few and 
far between. 

Charter legislation passed in 2003 eliminated the 
State Board of E duration as an audio lizer, but created 
an opening for new types of sponsors: education 
service agencies, public universities, and approved 
education nonprofits with more than $500,000 in assets. 
(0 hio and Minnesota are the only two states that allow 
nonprofit organizations to sponsor charter schools.) 

Thus far, only a few nonprofits have expressed 
interest in chartering schools. And only three nonprofits 
have been formally approved by the state as authorizers: 

Table 5: Charter School vs. Statewide 
Student Demographics (2003-2004) 






W hite 



M inority 






SOURCES: Ohio State D epartment of Education; Ohio Charter 
School Association. 

the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Buckeye 
Community Hope Foundation, and Ashe Cultural 
Center, Inc.^^ Even so, Ohio has one of the most 
diverse pools of potential authorizers in the country. 

□ Education Management Organizations 

Ohio charter schools may contract with private 
education management organizations (E MO s) to run 
their administrative operations. Last year, 73— or 49 
percent— of the 148 schools eligible to receive ratings 
under 0 hio's accountabihty system were operated by 
EMOs (brand new schools, or those with very few 
students in tested grades, are not rated under Ohio's 

Table 6: Ohio Charter School Sponsorship, 2003-2004 


N umber of Schoois 

Percentage of 
Charter Schoois 

Lucas County Educational 
Service Center 



0 hio Council of 
Community Schools 



State Board of Education* 



District Sponsored Schools 






*Prohibited from sponsoring charter schools after July 2005 under HB 364. 
**Percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding. 

SOURCE: Ohio Charter School Association. 


Achieving Excellence with Disadvantaged Students: 
W.E.B. DuBois Academy, Cincinnati, Ohio 

Located in the historic"0 ver the Rhine" neighborhood of central Cincinnati, theW.E.B.DuBoisAcademy 
is one of 0 hio's most recognized charter schools.The school is the only charter in the state to gain national 
accreditation from the American Academy of Liberal Education (AALE). More recently, the Academy was 
named a "School of Promise" by the 0 hio State Department of Education, an honor that requires schools to 
serve a high percentage of at-risk students, make adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by the federal 
No Child Left Behind Act, and have at least 75 percent academic proficiency among low-income and minority 
students.W.E.B. DuBoisAcademy was the only public charter school in southwest 0 hio to be awarded this 

W.E.B. DuBo is Academy's students are 98 percent African-American and 78 percent of the school's 
students receive free or reduced-price lunches. In 2003, the Academy, which serves students in grades 1-8, 
posted the highest 6th grade writing and social studies state assessment scores in Cincinnati, and was rated 
as Effective by Ohio's accountability system. 

The school's successes have been noteworthy, but perhaps not surprising, given the energy and 
commitment of its founder,W ilson H .W illard, III.W hile working as a C incinnati public school teacher,W illard 
became frustrated that there were not enough high-quality educational options for poor and minority 
youth in the city, so he vowed to provide new options.After embarking on a door-to-door campaign in the 
Cincinnati area and other surrounding neighborhoods to build awareness and community support for 
charter school opportunities, W illard opened the W.E.B. DuBoisAcademy in July 2000 with 180 students. 
The school quickly became popular and now serves close to 300 students. 

The Academy's overall mission is to provide students a high-quality education and help them thrive as 
productive learners.To achieve that, it has a longer school year and school day than most traditional public 
schools: It is open 253 days per year, from 7 5 p.m. Its Core Knowledge curriculum is designed to take 
full advantage of the extra instructional time and allows students to receive both review and advanced 
lessons, as well as remedial work, in order to establish the strong academic foundation required for them to 
succeed and compete on the same level with students in suburban schools.The school's program also has 
unique extracurricular components. All students must enroll in martial arts physical education classes to 
help them acquire the traditional martial arts values of self-control and discipline. And the Academy has a 
"step program" that incorporates traditional African ritual dancing with other gymnastic elements to increase 
students' balance, awareness, and attention while encouraging teamwork. 

SOURCES: W.E.B DuBois Academy (http:/ / ); American Academy of Liberal Education; (http:/ / 

accountability system). Those 73 schools served roughly 
28,500 students— or 66 percent of the state's charter 
school population. 

Since EMOs are businesses or networks that 
operate a number of charter schools, they can offer 
charters the advantages of economies of scale and 
accumulated expertise in the business, operational, and 
educational elements of charter schooling. E MO s can 
also provide the start-up capital needed to get new 
charter schools up and running, which stand-alone 
charter schools often struggle to obtain. Although some 
EMOs are nonprofit networks of charter school 
operators, many are operated on a for-profit basis. 

But student academic performance does not 
substantially differ according to whether schools are 
managed by EMOs or not.^*^ Last year, schools run by 
E MO s scored 62.5 on the state's composite performance 
index, on average, compared to 60.9 for other schools. 
And 52 percent of schools run by EMOs met federal 
adequate yearly progress (AYP) in 2003-2004, compared 
to just under 50 percent of the schools not run by E MO s. 

N or do schools run by E MO s serve a substantially 
different student population. Roughly 73 percent of 
students attending E MO -run schools are economically 
disadvantaged, compared to 69 percent of students 
attending other charter schools. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 17 

Poor Performance and Strong Parental Support: 
Hope Academy Broadway Cle\^and, Ohio 

Hope Academy Broadway is similar to many other urban schools:The students in grades K-8 are 
predominantlyAfrican-American,and 80 percent of them are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Housed 
in a former C atholic school building, students wear uniforms and make do without some of the amenities that 
traditional district schools have. For example, there is no gymnasium. 

And, as at other urban schools, many of the students at Hope Academy are struggling academically.The 
school did not meet adequate yearly progress (AYR) in 2003-2004 and is in the state's lowest performance 
category (Academic Emergency). 

W hat makes Hope Academy different is that it is run by W hite Hat Management Company, a for-profit 
education management organizations (EMO) located in nearby Akron, 0 hio. Founded by industrialist David 
Brennan, W hite Hat has attracted considerable attention and notoriety due to Brennan's high visibility as an 
advocate for school vouchers in Ohio as well as concerns about the quality and performance of some W hite 
Hat schools. In fact, Hope Academy Broadway operated as a private voucher school during its first two years, 
and then converted to a public charter. Hope Academies is the brand name of 13 elementary-level charter 
schools run by White Hat, which also runs secondary schools under the name Life Skills Centers. 

Because of its relationship with W hite Hat, Hope Academy Broadway enjoys some benefits that other 
charter schools lack. For example, there is a new computer lab with 32 workstations, and every classroom has 
six computers for students and one for a teacher. The school is staffed with a full-time social worker, master 
teacher, assistant principal, and a teaching assistant in each classroom.Teachers at Hope Academy are paid less 
than traditional public school teachers, but they receive $10,000 bonuses after five years and for improvements 
in student test scores. In addition, the school offers an extended school day that runs from 7:30 4:00 p.m. 

White Hat Management keeps track of the schools compliance with state and federal accountability 
requirements, financial management, professional development, among other factors. "I thought I'd died and 
gone to heaven when I came here," said Principal Lydia Harris."W hite Hat does everything for us." W hite Hat 
provides curriculum and professional training for its administrators and teachers, and provides "back office" 
services, such as processing payroll and completing state-mandated achievement reports for each school. The 
principals ofW hite H at schools meet monthly to share ideas and have control over hiring and firing teachers. 

As an example ofW hite Hat's efficiency, Ms. Harris tells the story of how she wanted a library for the 
school. She mentioned it to W hite Hat's managers, who mapped out a plan and quickly leapt into action."! 
looked up a few weeks later and I had 72 cases of books," says Harris. 

Despite low achievement and poor state accountability ratings, Hope Academy Broadway continues to 
draw strong parental interest. The school has almost doubled from 274 students when it opened five years 
ago to 514 students in 2003-2004, gradually taking over more of the archdiocesan facility. "0 ur phone is 
ringing off the hook all day," says Principal Harris.The contrast between poor student achievement and strong 
parental demand may perplex observers who expect that market choice will ensure accountability for charter 
schools. Yet, there are other reasons besides academic achievement that parents may want to send their 
children to Hope Academy Broadway. Parents are drawn to its safety, orderliness, and family atmosphere- 
factors Harris cites as contributing to its appeal. Parents may also be drawn to the Hope brand, since other 
schools in the network, including the Hope Academy Canton in Canton and Hope Academy Cuyahoga in 
Cleveland, are performing much better, makingAYP under the N o Child Left BehindAct,and earning Continuous 
Improvement ratings under the state accountability system. Another important factor may simply be that 
many of the educational alternatives available to parents in the C leveland area are themselves low-performing. 

But Ms. Harris believes Hope's poor performance must be seen in context. "Expectations are higher for 
us than for other schools," she says. "We get kids who are multiple grades behind when they arrive, and we 
are not given credit for the progress that they make." 


While E MO s may be either nonprofit or for-profit 
companies, under Ohio law, only nonprofit 
organizations are eligible to apply for charters or to 
create charter schools. But once schools are chartered, 
they may use either for-profit or nonprofit EMOs to 
run their operations. 

Nonprofit EMOs outnumber for-profit EMOs 
in Ohio. But nearly 30 percent of the 243 charter 
schools expected to open this fall are managed by for- 
profit companies, according to the Ohio Federation 
of Teachers.^’ 

The major EMOs serving charter schools in Ohio 
include White Hat Management, K-12 Inc., National 
Heritage Academies, and Altair, which are aU for-profit, 
and Summit Academies Inc., which is nonprofit. 

□ Virtual Schools Serving Subuiban Students 

Another distinctive feature of the charter school 
environment in Ohio is the widespread presence 

of virtual charter schools. Also known as online or 
electronic schools, virtual charter schools have been 
in existence since Lucas County Education Service 
Center sponsored the Electronic Classroom of 
Tomorrow (FOOT) in 2001. 

By 2003-2004, 0 hio's virtual charter schools had 
enrolled 12,000 students— roughly one of every four 
charter school students in the state. Although many 
of them are quite small, Ohio has the greatest 
number of virtual charter schools in the country, 
according to the Ohio Charter School Association 
(OCSA). Statewide, more than 40 Ohio charter 
schools are Internet-based. 

Academic achievement in online charter schools 
appears to be similar to that of other charter schools, 
though data are limited by the number of small online 
schools that do not have enough students in each grade 
to receive a rating from the state. 

In some cases, performance data also reflect the 
schools' difficulties getting 95 percent of students to 

An I nno\/ative Approach, With a Few "Bugs": 
The Electronic Classroom oFTomorrow 

H eadquartered in a renovated strip mall at the southern edge of C olumbus, 0 hio, the Electronic C lassroom 
of Tomorrow (ECOT) is a statewide virtual charter school whose modest facilities belie its prominent role 
and extensive reach. 

Founded in 2001 with Lucas County Education Service Center as its sponsor, ECOT is the first and 
largest virtual charter school in the state. It serves roughly 6,000 students in grades K-12, 4,000 of whom are 
in secondary school. It graduated its fourth class of high school students last year. 

The school employs 57 full-time teachers. ECOT students talk to their teachers at least once a week, but 
otherwise do all their work online at their own pace. Home visits are provided for students with special needs. 
Progress is closely monitored— those who do not log on or do not make sufficient progress are dropped. 

Its academic offerings, most of which are off-the-shelf commercial software programs, are administered 
through an extensive intranet that students usually access through computers provided by the school. The 
school also has 32 physical sites around the state where some classes are taught and testing is administered. 

ECOT Superintendent Jeffrey Forster estimates that, at most, 10 percent of students are right for online 
education. "We don't get the homecoming queen or the football captain," he says.The school prides itself on 
being able to take older high school students up to age 21 who might otherwise drop out or be pushed out 
of a traditional high school. 

The school has gone through a number of challenges during the past four years. The online delivery 
model, with its lack of traditional classes and schedules, has troubled many traditional educators and created 
numerous administrative obstacles. Disputes with the state about how to count students have been a chronic 
problem that, according to school officials, hurt the school and angered the districts. 

Conflicts are lessening somewhat as districts start their own online programs and as the school and the 
state work out administrative procedures. However, the school is still rated as in Academic Emergency and 
did not makeAYP in 2003-2004.The challenges of virtual charter schools are discussed in greater detail later 
in this report. 

SOURCES: Trotter, Andrew, "Ohio Audit Reveals Difficulties Of Tracking Online Students," E duration Wedc, December 5, 2001, http:/ / ew/ newstory.cfm?slug= 14cyber.h21. "Ohio Department of Education 2004 Report Card," September 2004, http:// D istrictRatings/ Buildings.aspx. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 19 

take state assessment tests, as required by the federal 
No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). State assessments 
are not offered onhne and schools have no way of 
forcing students to take the tests. Although the virtual 
charter schools provide locations around the state where 
students can take the tests, as few as one- half of virtual 
charter school students in some programs such as 
SCOT utilize these approved locations. 

Additionally, online charter schools— especially 
large, statewide operations— generally have lower 
percentages of African-American and disadvantaged 
students than do bricks- and-mortar charter schools. 

Achievement Data 

Available academic achievement information on 
charter schools in Ohio presents a mixed and 
incomplete picture, but one that should worry charter 
school supporters. 

Unhke charter schools in some states, 0 hio's charter 
schools have not been the subject of extensive research 
and evaluation by academic and outside researchers. 
Further, neither the state nor the 0 hio Charter Schools 
Association provides direct, current comparisons of 
charter and district school performance for schools 
with comparable populations. The most ambitious 
evaluations of charter school characteristics and 
performance in 0 hio come from a series of reports 
produced by the state's independent Legislative 0 ffice 
of Education Oversight (LOEO) from 2000 to 2004. 
LO E 0 's most recent report, issued in D ecember 2003, 
specifically focused on academic performance and 
accoimtability of charter schools, and found that many 
Ohio charters fall significantly short of meeting their 
promise to improve academic achievement. By and 
large, LOEO found that charters were doing no better 
than traditional public schools, and that a large minority 
were doing substantially worse than comparable district 

The LOEO compared Ohio charter schools' 
performance on the 2001-2002 state proficiency tests 
for 4th and 6th grades with state goals and with similar 
traditional public schools in the state. It found that both 
charter and comparison schools fell short of the state 
goal of 75 percent proficiency in 4th and 6th grade in 
all subjects tested (reading, math, science, writing, and 
citizenship). At the 4th grade level, traditional schools 
outperformed charter schools in all subjects tested. At 
the 6th grade level, traditional schools performed better 

in math and citizenship, charter schools performed 
better in writing, and there was no statistically significant 
difference between the two groups in reading or 
science. Although the differences between charter and 
traditional school performance were statistically 
significant and generally favored traditional schools, the 
"effect size"— the practical impact of statistically 
significant differences- was small, leading LOEO to 
conclude that charter and traditional schools in Ohio 
are performing similarly on academic measures.^® 
However, because charters were compared not to aU 
schools in the state but to comparable public schools, 
which themselves fell short of state goals, this is hardly 
a ringing endorsement of charter school performance 
in Ohio. 

The final LOEO report also provided a more 
detailed view of charter school performance in 0 hio 
by comparing individual charter schools in the state 
with similar traditional schools located in the same 
school district. In roughly two-thirds of these 
comparisons, LOEO found no statistically significant 
difference between individual charters and comparable 
schools. But in the majority of the 30 percent or so of 
cases where differences were discovered, traditional 
pubhc schools were outperforming charters, with effect 
sizes ranging from medium to large. In addition to 
these troubling conclusion that a substantial share of 
0 hio charter schools are significantly underperforming, 
LOEO also identified a small number of charter 
schools that are excelling, but these were a distinct 
minority of 0 hio charter schools. 

Perhaps most troubling, a large number of 
schools— more than one-third of those that should 
have been included— were excluded from at least part 
of LO E 0 's analysis because they did not provide the 
state sufficient data about their test performance or 
other characteristics.^* While charter advocates and 
sponsors assert that these data problems have since been 
corrected, the failure of a significant share of the state's 
charter schools, particularly at the high school level, to 
provide adequate assessment data raises red flags about 
the efficacy of Ohio's charter accountability system as 
well as the performance of many state schools. 

It is also important to note that LOEO limited its 
analysis to charter schools that had been in operation 
two or more years when the data was collected. Many 
analysts evaluating charters argue that newly opened 
charter schools should be excluded from evaluation 
because research shows start-up charters are more hkely 


to have achievement problems in their early years and 
that charter achievement tends to rise after three years in 
operation. Because the LOEO analysis excluded first- 
year charters and overrepresented third- and fourth-year 
charters relative to their actual share of the charter 
population, however, this could mean the report 
overestimates the performance of charter schools in 0 hio. 

0 n the other hand, since the LO E 0 report could 
not include later- year data for a number of the charter 
schools it studied, and did not look at fourth- 
generation and fifth- generation charters opened in 
2001-2002 and 2002-2003, it is possible that the actual 
performance of charter schools today is stronger than 
the LOEO report finds. That could be true if second- 
generation and third-generation charters included in 
the LO E 0 report are now reaping the gains of greater 
operating experience, or if fourth- and fifth- generation 
charter operators and sponsors have learned from the 

experience of previous generations and are more 
prepared to create quality schools. Overall, LOEO's 
analysis and state test data indicate that older charter 
schools in Ohio are more likely to be in academic 
emergency and to serve populations with higher 
percentages of disadvantaged students. However, 
counter to the findings of national studies that have 
concluded charter school achievement improves with 
time, these results make sense in 0 hio, as the evolution 
of the law may have ensured that the oldest schools 
were estabhshed in some of the state's most challenging 

□ State Accountability Ratings and Adequate 
Yeaiiy Progress 

Ohio's accountability system assigns schools and 
school districts one of five ratings: Excellent, E ffective. 

Ohio's Accountability System Ratings 

Definition of Ohio Accountabiiity System Designations 

□ Excellent: 94% - 100% on state report card indicators (RCI), or Performance Index Score (PIS) of 100 
to 120; may or may not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) 

□ Effective: 75% - 93% on state RCI, or PIS of 90 to 99; may or may not make AYP 

□ Continuous Improvement: 50% - 74% on state RCI, or PIS of 80-89, or made AYP 

□ Academic Watch: 31% - 49% on state RCI, or PIS of 70-79, and did not make AYP 

□ Academic Emergency Below 31% on state RCI, PIS of 69 or below, and did not make AYP 


□ Report Card Indicators 21 test indicators in 7 grades (3rd through 8th, and 10th) and 5 subject 
areas (reading, writing, math, science, and citizenship*); attendance and graduation rates 

□ PIS: Weighted index of performance on state assessments; gives greater weight to advanced scores 

□ Growth Calculation: Allows schools to advance one ratings scale (Academic Emergency to Academic 
Watch, or Academic Watch to Continuous Improvement) if they have improved PIS by 10 points in past 
two years and at least three points in past year** 

□ AYP: Based on federal No Child Left Behind requirements: a certain percent of each school's students, 
as well as students in each subgroup (major racial and ethnic groups, disadvantaged, English Language 
Learner, and special education) must score proficient on state assessments; 95 percent of students in 
each subgroup must be tested; school must meet standards for attendance and graduation rates 

* Not all grades are tested in all subjects. 

** This is a temporary growth calculation that will be replaced with a value-added measure when 0 hio has fully implemented annual assessments 

in reading and math in grades 3-8. 

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 21 

Continuous Improvement, 

Academic Watch, and Academic 
Emergency. In 2003-04, 112 of 148 
Ohio charter schools eligible to 
receive ratings under the system 
received them. (Charter schools with 
extremely small enrollments and 
those open less than two years were 
not given ratings. Overall, 58 
percent received one of the two 
lowest ratings. Thirty- eight percent, 
or 43 schools, were rated as being 
in Continuous Improvement, the 
state's middle rung, and only six 
schools (5.5 percent) were rated 
Effective or Excellent. Charter 
schools performed far below district schools and did 
not improve their position relative to them. 

Between 2002-2003 and 2003-2004, the 
percentage of both traditional and charter schools 
making AYP under NCLB rose. Eifty-two percent of 
charter schools made AYP in 2003-2004, compared 
to 45 percent in the previous year. However, a 
substantial share of these schools received AYP status 
solely on the basis of non-test indicators (attendance 
and graduation rates), because they either did not submit 
test data or had too few students tested in the grades 
covered by Ohio's testing system. As AYP targets 
increase in coming years, the numbers of both charter 
and traditional schools not making AYP— and the 
percentages on Academic Watch or in Academic 
Emergency— will likely increase, unless both types of 
schools improve performance significantly.^^ 

In comparison, 83 percent of district schools met 
AY P in 2004.^^ Again, it is important to remember that 
these are not apples- to -apples comparisons because 
of differences between the overall state demographics 
and the demographics of charter school students. A 
further discussion of these issues follows. 

□ National Analyses 

The conclusions of state-level analyses and 
assessments of charter student performance— that 
charter schools overall are doing no better or possibly 
worse than comparable district schools, and that a 
significant minority of individual charter schools clearly 
are inferior— are corroborated in a national charter 
school study by economist Carohne Hoxby.^® 

Table 7: Academic Status and Schools M aking 
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) 

Charter Schools 

District Schools 

Percentage of schools 
making federal AYP 



Percentage of schools on 
academic watch or in 
academic emergency status 



Percentage of schools rated 
by the state 



SOURCES: Ohio State Department of Education; Ohio Charter School Association. 

Hoxby used state assessment tests to do a 
nationwide comparison of charter school students and 
students in the nearest comparable schools. She found 
that charter school students outperformed students in 
comparable district schools in most states. But in 0 hio, 
she found no difference in reading, yet found that 
charter students were approximately 9 percent less likely 
to be proficient in math, compared to similar district 
students. When charter mathematics results were 
compared to the nearest pubhc school with s imil ar racial 
compositions, there was no significant difference in 
performance.^’ Regardless, if 0 hio charter schools are 
going to help close the achievement gap, they will need 
to do better than simply hold even with other pubhc 
schools that are not serving poor and minority students 
very well themselves. 

□ Other Indicators 

Student achievement, measured by standardized 
tests, is important. But it is not the only criterion by 
which schools should be judged. Charter schools in 
Ohio show slightly higher attendance rates than 
comparable traditional pubhc schools. The 2003 
LOEO report found that two-thirds of the charter 
schools were meeting the state's 93 percent attendance 
rate goal, and that charter schools averaged 93 percent 
attendance compared to 91 percent for a comparable 
set of traditional pubhc schools. But while the difference 
is statistically significant, the effect size is very smah. 

Charter school parents also appear to be much more 
satisfied than their traditional pubhc school counterparts, 
according to the 2003 LOEO report. Ninety percent of 


charter school parents were satisfied or very satisfied 
with their children's school, according to the report, 
compared to 81 percent of traditional public school 
parents. Charter schools also enjoy broad support 
among all parents. For example, a 2003 survey of 
D ayton-areaparents showed that 80 percent of parents 
in the Miami Valley area surrounding Dayton favor 
retaining or expanding charter schools. 

The combination of lower student achievement 
and higher parental satisfaction for charter schools— 
in some cases very low scores, but still strong parental 
support— poses a quandary for policymakers and 
researchers, in 0 hio and elsewhere. Some observers 
argue that parents are more likely to express satisfaction 
with a school that they have chosen, since those unhappy 
parents have been free to leave. Another possible 
explanation for this difference emerges from the 2003 
LOEO report, which found that parents of charter 
school students were most hkely to have chosen their 
schools because of "individual attention" to their 
students, while those in traditional district schools were 
more hkely to prioritize "high standards." This suggests 
that perhaps charter school parents are selecting these 
schools for "soft," environmental characteristics, such 
as smaller classes, safety, or a caring environment, that 
may be valued by parents, students, and teachers, but 
not directly reflected in academic results.^® 

□ Selection Effects 

D ebate rages about whether charter school students 
are more or less academically proficient when they enter 
a charter school— a factor that largely determines how 
weU schools look on the state report card. 

According to the OCSA, charter schools are 
serving students who are severely behind before they 
even walk in the door: Eighty percent of entering 
3rd grade charter school students scored below 
proficient in reading, compared to 53 percent of 
all public school students. In 4th grade, the results 
are even more dramatic: 14 percent of charter school 
students passed fall reading proficiency tests last year, 
compared to 55 percent statewide. Common to all 
public schools across Ohio, there is a significant 
achievement gap between white, nonwhite, and poor 

The spread of charter schools servingpredominantly 
low-income and minority children, ironically, may 
unintentionally make traditional schools look better 
on state report cards. "If you take a high percentage 
of the lowest performing students out of your 
district schools and cluster them [by their own 
choice] in charter schools ... the scores of the district 
should pop up," says former state legislator Sally 
Perz, because "a whole layer" of low-performing 
students is "not there anymore." 

A more balanced long-term assessment comes 
from the Thomas B. Eordham Foundation's Terry 
Ryan, who wrote in a September 2004 report, 
" Charter schools have not yet made the achievement 
gains across the board that their supporters seek, 
and clearly some of the Buckeye state's charters are 
chronic underperformers that should be shut down 
(and perhaps should never have been opened)." And 
yet, Ryan points out that charter school students in 
the Dayton area on the whole outperformed 
traditional public school students on 4th and 6th 
grade proficiency tests. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 23 

C hallenges Faced by C barter School 
O perators in O hio 

Political and Legal Opposition 

The Coalition for Pubhc Education, a powerful 
statewide network of education groups, has become 
extremely active in opposing charter schools in 0 hio.^° 
The coalition's members include the state ParentTeacher 
Association, the Ohio School Boards Association, the 
Buckeye Association of School Administrators, and 
the Ohio chapter of the AFL-CIO. The Ohio 
Federation of Teachers (OFT) affiliates in Cincinnati, 
Cleveland, and Toledo have joined the coahtion, as have 
the independent Akron Education Association, the 
Feague of Women Voters, and other organizations. 

This coalition was originally created to fight for 
school finance reform and urge the state to provide 
more funding for public education, particularly for 
poorer school districts. The coalition has pressed that 
cause through the courts, joining in the long-running 
lawsuit D eRolph v. 0 hio, which remains unresolved.^^ The 
case has created a highly charged atmosphere in 0 hio 
around school funding issues. The state's recent budget 
crisis has also raised temperatures in the statehouse and 
among school districts. D istricts are under pressure to 
remain a part of the coalition to ensure that they will 
have seats at the table when the state's funding system 
is eventually revamped. 

Aside from the D eRolph case and those funding 
issues, the coahtion has pressed for a moratorium on 
charters during the past three years, and it has filed 
lawsuits against the State Board of Education for 
ahegedly failing to administer charter schools adequately. 
It threatens to organize a statewide referendum on 
charter schools if the lawsuits fail. The coahtion's efforts 
are led by OFT president Tom Mooney, with support 
from the national American Federation of Teachers 
(AFT), which once cautiously supported charters. The 
AFT reversed its position on charters in 2002, calling for 
a national moratori um on their further expansion, and 
has since become an increasingly vocal charter opponent. 

The Coahtion for Pubhc Education and its various 
membeis have brought several lawsuits challenging 0 hio 's 
charter school laws, which remain unresolved. In August 

of 2004, a state appeals court found that charter schools 
were allowed by the 0 hio constitution. But another lawsuit 
against the state— chahenging the way it funds charter 
schools— is makingits way through the courts, and anew 
federal suit was filed during the summer of 2004. 

The federal lawsuit, filed by the largest teachers 
union in the state, the Ohio Education Association, 
charges that the state's charter school law violates the 
equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because 
students in traditional public schools are not receiving 
their full share of state funding. The suit also alleges 
discriminatory treatment of minority students who 
remain in traditional public schools. 

In August of 2004, the 10th District Court of 
Appeals allowed the continuation of parts of the state- 
based lawsuit against charter schools, overturning a 
lower court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit entirely*^ 
The appeals panel upheld parts of the dismissal that 
dealt with questions of whether charter schools are 
part of the constitutionally required system of common 
schools, but overturned the aspects of the decision 
that dealt with the economic impact of charter schools 
on district funding, and different academic standards 
for charter and traditional schools.^^ 

Thus far, 0 hio's charter schools and their supporters 
have had to raise $1.2 million for their collective legal 
defense, according to the Fordham Foundation's Terry 
Ryan. Most of these funds have been paid by individual 
charter schools rather than outside contributions. 

"There's a very heavy political component to aU 
of this," says Clint Satow, consultant to the 0 hio Charter 
Schools Association. "The attitude of some people 
has always been that charter schools were punishment 
to urban districts from suburban Repubhcans." This 
year, according to Satow, Ohio public charter schools 
will divert more than $400 million in funds from the 
traditional public school districts. While that frmding 
stays in pubhc education overall, the reallocation is an 
issue. "That's real money," says Satow. In the meantime, 
urban districts and their allies are eager for school 
finance reform, which would give them more access 
to tax revenues from suburban school districts. 


Lack of Funding 

As the number of charter schools in Ohio has 
risen, they have drawn a steadily increasing stream of 
students and state education dollars. That has stoked 
animosity toward charters from members of 
established education groups in the state, and deepened 
divides between charter supporters and opponents. 
Y et, even as districts complain they are loosing funding 
to charters, charter school funding remains 
problematically low and significantly less than what 
traditional pubhc schools receive. 

□ Access to Local Funding 

Ohio charter schools receive the same state funding 
per pupil as do traditional district public schools, as well 
as federal funding for Tide 1 and other programs. But 
charter schools do not have access to local tax-generated 
funding As a result, charter schools operate with two- 
thirds of the funding available to traditional public schools. 

In early 2004, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute 
released a report on charter schools in Dayton that 
highlighted this problem. "The ten charter schools 
included in this analysis received $7,510 per pupil in 
2001-2 while the D ayton pubhc school system received 
$10,802, not counting capital funds."^^ 

□ Capital Funding 

There are at present no funds allocated for purchase 
or renovation of fachities in 0 hio for charter schools. So 
charter schools must spend state education funds on rents 
or leases. As aresult, charter schools continue to face serious 
challenges in affording classroom space. The three-year- 
old International Academy of Columbus is located on 
the groimds of a former go-kart track. The main offices 
of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow are in a 
former shopping maU. Mosaica E ducation is located in a 
former JC Penney bmlding.^^ 

Accordingto the Eordham Institute analysis, district 
schools in Dayton receive 44 percent more operating 
funds than charter schools.^® With facilities revenue 
included, it is a total of 56 percent. 

□ District-Based Funding 

T he funding mechanism set up by the state's charter 
school law has created a constant source of friction.^'^ 

Procedurally, charter schools are not frmded directly 
from the state. Instead, per-pupil funds are deducted 
from district allocations. Thus, for districts, the 
experience of looking at monthly financial reports is 
notunlike seeing their wages garnished. Per-pupil state 
funding follows students who transfer from district 
schools to charter schools, meaning that districts that 
lose students to charters also lose funding. "It would 
have been a whole different world if the state had 
paid for this out of a different pot of money," says 
Andy Benson, of KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the 
Cincinnati-based education reform group. 

N ot surprisingly, the financial impact of charters on 
district schools has become a primary lightning rod. N ews 
accounts regularly cite the amormt of funding received 
by charter schools as if these funds were being stolen 
from the system. Charter school opponents track the 
figures closely, and suggest that current budget shortfalls 
and layoffs are at least partly the result of charter schools. 
For their part, charter school proponents argue that the 
current accounting system sometimes results in a windfall 
for the traditional districts when students drop out and 
do not enroll in charter schools. 

□ Funding for Online Schools 

While 0 hio's original charter school law did not 
specifically authorize online charter schools, neither 
were they specifically prohibited. Asa result, there have 
been few limits on where statewide online charter 
school students could come from, compared to the 
stringent Emits on where bricks-and-mortar charter 
schools could be located or who could sponsor them. 
Under Ohio's charter law, for administrative purposes, 
charter schools must be physically located in an eligible 
area, but the law does not limit schools to drawing students 
from only these communities. As aresult, online schools 
were able to attract students from suburban areas 

The fact that online charter schools initially began 
without specific statutory authorization is the subject 
of some controversy. Republican lawmakers, many 
of whom are from the suburbs, did not initially 
imagine that charter schools would be an option 
outside of the designated at-risk districts. Indeed, there 
were no statewide charter schools for the first four 
years of Ohio's charter school movement. 

Now that virtual schools exist and serve students 
who reside outside the originally designated urban 
districts— and since they receive the same amount of 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 25 

per-pupil funding from the state as brick-and-mortar 
charters— a wide range of interest groups are rankled. 
These include many traditional educators, some 
lawmakers, and even some charter school officials who 
cannot imagine that the costs of running an online 
school could compare to those of running a fully 
staffed school building. 

□ Stand-Alone Charter Schools 

Stand-alone or "mom-and-pop" charter schools— 
those that operate independently without support from a 
larger network or education management organizations 
(E MO )— can be laboratories for educational innovations 
that districts can emulate. 

Stand-alone charter schools, however, pay a price 
for operating without the help of a network of other 
schools, or the help of management companies. They 
often have limited revenue streams, and must struggle to 
cover initial coital costs and unforeseen bills. They do 
not benefit from economies of scale. And they frequently 
lack business expertise. "The for- profits [EMOs] with 

their economies of scale are far better able to serve kids 
in this environment and actually grow," says Chester Finn, 
presidentof theThomasB.Fordham Foundation. "From 
a serving kids standpoint, the for-profits have a better 
shot at being viable" over time in 0 hio than stand-alone 
charter schools. 

Sponsorship Issues 

According to many of those most familiar with 
the situation, some 0 hio charter schools have experienced 
quahty and accountabihty problems due to inadequate 
oversight and insufficient technical support from the 
state's most prominent authorizers. Moreover, many 
potential alternative authorizers— some with more 
resources to offer than existing sponsors— are reluctant 
to become involved in chartering. 

□ Too Few Viable, Motivated, or Active Sponsors 

Until very recently, most school districts and 
vocational education agencies ehgible to be sponsors did 

Recruiting Authorizers 
Ohio Charter School Sponsor Institute 

New charter school laws in 2003 broadened the pool of entities permitted to act as charter school 
sponsors in Ohio. To help recruit and support a new generation of charter school sponsors, a group of 
charitable foundations and education policy groups created the Ohio Charter School Sponsor Institute. 

C reated in August 2003, the Institute is a $1 million, two-year project of the 0 hio Foundation for School 
Choice and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, supported with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates and 
Walton Family Foundations. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers pledged to provide 
expertise and assistance as well. John Rothwell, a former State Department of Education official who had also 
overseen the creation of charter schools in Cincinnati, was tapped to lead the effort. 

During the past year, the Institute has conducted a number of outreach and informational sessions, 
focusing in particular on the potential role of nonprofit organizations as charter school sponsors.The Institute 
works to address challenges facing prospective authorizers in Ohio, which include: 

□ Recruiting and training new sponsors; 

□ Instructing prospective nonprofit and education service center sponsors about the state's sponsor 
approval process; and 

□ Flelping fund sponsors during initial start-up and transition phases, during which sponsors face significant 
costs but receive no revenue. 

So far, the Institute has recruited a dozen sponsor candidates, seven of which— four education service 
centers and three nonprofit organizations— have been approved to begin authorizing schools.And, continuing 
its focus on recruiting strong sponsor hopefuls, the Institute is completing a comprehensive resource guidebook 
for Ohio authorizers that outlines the charter application process, charter evaluation and accountability 
requirements, funding and fiscal oversight procedures, as well as other issues of monitoring charter compliance. 


not waim to the task, leaving most potential charter school 
operators in 0 hio with just three real authorizer options— 
one of which was available only to E MO -run schools. 

One of the original charter sponsors in Ohio, the 
Lucas County E ducational Service Center, works with 
both stand-alone and management-run charters, 
including online charter schools. Its clients include 
Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (LOOT), the 
state's largest online charter. 

The second original sponsor, the Ohio Council 
of Community Schools, began as the University of 
Toledo Charter School Council and now works only 
with management- run charter schools. 

"We tried to get a new sponsor, but it was too 
controversial for them," says Perry White, executive 
director of Citizens' Academy in Cleveland, a stand- 
alone charter school. "Having just two sponsors to 
choose from is not healthy," he says. 

□ State E ducation D epartment: A uthorizer and 
Charter School Monitor 

The State D epartment of E ducation was a particularly 
attractiveauthorizerduringtheeariyyearsin Chio because 
it was able to sponsor charter schools in any part of the 
state and worked with both E MC -managed schools and 
independent schools. It also did not charge fees for services 
related to sponsoring, as some sponsors did. 

But the D epartment was quickly overwhelmed 
with its contradictory duties as both sponsor of 
individual charter schools and monitor for overall 
program quality in charter schools. Erequent problems 
included the lack of sufficient staff, lack of experience 
monitoring charter schools, and lack of sufficient 
knowledge of the systems for managing student 
information and school finances. 

Even as the state transitions into a new role, 
concerns remain about the quality and quantity of 
assistance provided through the State D epartment of 
Education. According to Ohio Charter Schools 
Association (OCSA) head Stephen Ramsey, there has 
never been enough capacity to provide adequate 
technical assistance, and there remains too little help 
with start-up activities. 

Indeed, the D epartment may still be playing catch- 
up. Until it is up to speed, the charter school community 
will be largely on its own in learning the state's student 
information management system and financial 
procedures, and making sure that its schools are 

reporting the right data, at the right time, and in the 
right form, among other things. 

□ Weak Contract Renewal Process 

As of December 2003, 13 charter schools had 
opened and closed, according to the 2003 Legislative 
Office of Education Oversight (LOEO) report, almost 
aU of them for financial rather than academic reasons 
(althou^ these issues are often intertwined, and authorizers 
around the country often use financial problems as a more 
expeditious way to close low-performing charter schools). 

Of the 15 charter schools that have come up for 
renewal, nine have been renewed and six have been given 
conditional renewal. But several accounts, including the 
2003 LOEO report, suggest that the contract review and 
renewal processes are not yet fully functional. Eor example, 
academic considerations were a key part of the decision 
in just one of 15 renewals reviewed in the report. In 
some cases, academic goals in the contracts were vague 
or otherwise unenforceable. In the others, financial 
considerations dominated. Two schools that were not 
renewed simply went to another sponsor. 

□ Too Few District Sponsors 

Whether districts will— or should— become more 
active charter school sponsors is a controversial issue 
in 0 hio and elsewhere. 

To some charter proponents, district- based 
sponsorship creates enormous problems by undermining 
independence and stifling innovation in charter schools. 
They argue that the distribution of authorizers in 0 hio 
simply reflects the fact that outside authorizers are more 
willing and able than districts to be effective charter 
school sponsors. Without the three main outside 
authorizers, charter school development would have 
proceeded much more slowly, to be sure. 

Yet, others fear the lack of enough internal or 
district authorizers limits the charter school movement's 
ability to maintain quality and accountability, and 
contributes to public perception and legitimacy 
problems. In addition, they argue, hesitancy by district 
officials to charter new schools or convert existing ones 
to charter status prevents districts from taking 
advantage of an important strategy for improving their 
educational performance and also Emits the expansion 
of charter opportunities in non-urban and affluent 
parts of the state. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 27 

Giving Students Something Extra:TheToledo School for the Arts 

The Toledo School for the Arts (TSA) is a college preparatory public charter school for students in 
grades 6-12 that focuses on experiential and career-oriented arts programming in dance, music, theater, and 
the visual arts.Authorized by theToledo Board of Education, the school opened its doors in September 1999, 
and has since grown to serve nearly 300 students.This year,TSA will graduate its second class of seniors. 

The TSA offers a "traditional education in a non-traditional environment." It combines core academic 
subjects with dance, music, theater, and visual arts electives and gives its students opportunities to work with 
professional artists in the area.These "ARTnerships," as TSA calls them, give students a chance to work in 
some ofToledo's major cultural institutions to expand their artistic experiences and knowledge.The school's 
partners include the PerformingArts C ouncil ofToledo,Toledo Ballet,Toledo 0 pera,Toledo RepertoireTheatre, 
theToledo Symphony,WGTE-TV,Trinity Church, the Toledo Zoological Gardens, and theToledo Museum of 
Art, as well as the Center of Science and Industry (an interactive museum), the Valentine Theater, and the 
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. 

Students at TSA come from 12 area school districts.The school serves slightly higher percentages of 
poor and minority students than the state average, but it has fewer disadvantaged and minority students than 
the average Ohio charter school. 

Not surprisingly, TSA's proficiency scores are some of the highest in Ohio. The TSA has met adequate 
yearly progress with an index average of 83.4 percent, far exceeding the state's passing standard, and has 
received a Continuous Improvement rating under Ohio's state accountability system. 

TheTSA is a prime example of a public charter school providing high-quality education while still ensuring 
its students get a one-of-a-kind, innovative, high school experience. In addition, schools like this help broaden 
support for public education by providing art-focused options within the public system. As TSA Director 
Martin Porter writes in the welcoming letter on the school's website, "TSA is truly Arts, plus a whole lot 

so URGE S: Toledo School for the Arts, http:/ /; Legislative 0 ffice of E ducation 0 versight, 2003 Einal Report; 

In any case, the continued expansion of charter 
schools as a tool to improve education in Ohio will 
require districts to play a greater role both in chartering 
new schools and converting existing schools to charter 
status. This already appears to be taking place, as 
observers report school districts, including D ayton and 
C olumbus, are actively competing to become sponsors 
of state-board-sponsored charters that need new 
sponsors by July of 2005. 

□ Ongoing Difficulty Recruiting N ew Sponsors 

Transitioning the State D epartment of E ducation 
out of its authorizing role and recruiting a new wave 
of sponsors is by all accounts a necessary step, but it 
remains a challenge. It has been a lame duck sponsor 
for the past one and one-half years. N ew sponsors 
have been slow to apply in large numbers, and the list 
of viable sponsors for existing charter schools has 
stagnated. Currently, three nonprofits and four 
education service centers are approved sponsors. 

although nonprofit sponsors were prohibited from 
authorizing new schools until 2005. 

Data Problems 

□ Lack of Timely, Useful Data 

Policymakers need student achievement data that can 
be disaggregated to control for factors such as race and 
poverty, and then used to compare charter schools to 
each other and to traditional public schools. Unfortunately, 
such data are stiU not available in 0 hio. According to the 
0 CSA, the state has not published aggregate student 
demographics across all of the state's charter schools for 
the past two years, making these comparisons impossible 
to conduct At present tire state issues report cards on 
individual schools, but does not know (and will not 
calculate) the aggregate percentages of charter school 
students who live in poverty (that is, across all charter 
schools in the state), or break down student populations 
by race. There are also no data with which to compare 


the academic achievement levels of students entering 
charter schools with those entering other schools. In 
addition, though some data exists, it is not definitively 
known whether charter school performance varies by 
the type of sponsor or by the location of service (i.e., 
online or bricks-and-mortar schools). 

The situation is increasin^y problematic, as highlighted 
in an August 27, 2004 Cindnnati E nquira: editorial: "The 
absence of objective data to show who attends charter 
schools, why they enroll, and how they're performing 
when they enter is an inexcusable flaw in this reform effort 
... The charter school experiment is too important— 
and too costly— to be hung on conjecture."^® 

The most recent State D epartment of Education 
report on charter schools in Ohio was issued in 
D ecember 2003, covering the 2002-2003 school year, 
but it provided only limited data. The 2003 LOEO 
report, which was independently conducted by the 
state's legislative office, is the most definitive source of 
information to date— however, it covers only 59 
schools, is based on insufficient data from charter 
schools, and, insiders say, was outdated even by the 
time it was published. Analysis conducted by the 0 C SA 
lacks any official imprimatur and suffers from not being 
published at the same time as the rest of the 
performance data for the state. 

Politics and Privatization 

□ Perceptions of Education Management 

Management companies provide a number of 
benefits to both charter schools and sponsoring 
organizations. First, EMOs are able to help start and 
keep schools afloat if and when the schools run into 
frmding problems with the state— a fairly common 
occurrence in the early years, according to those in the 
charter school community. The backing of a larger 
organization, such as a management company, can help 
schools make payroll, for example. In addition, most 
E MO s have at least some experience with curriculum 
development and operational issues that stand-alone 
charter school operators may not have. 

To some lawmakers and members of the public, 
however, management- run charter schools have much 
less appeal than the organic, independent efforts that 
are more common in other parts of the country. The 
"cookie-cutter" look of schools operated by some 

EMOs creates worries that teachers' creativity and 
individu aliz ed learning for students might be stifled. 

"They are very much into the franchising idea in 
Ohio," says the University of Minnesota's Joe Nathan, 
a national expert on charter schools. Not surprisingly, 
he says, traditional educators who are not famihar with 
charter schools loath the notion of franchising. 

The fact that some of the EMOs are also for- 
profit companies raises some concerns about operators 
putting profit ahead of achievement, especially when 
it comes to poor or minority children. 

The presence and influence of for-profit 
management companies has legal ramifications as well. 
A nonprofit organization holding a charter is legally 
supposed to be independent from a management 
company hired to run the school. However, critics have 
challenged the functional independence of many charter 
school boards, suggesting that some charter boards 
are selected by management companies or have given 
inappropriate amounts of control to the management 
companies. This issue is part of the 2001 lawsuit filed 
against the state by the Coalition for Public E ducation.^® 

□ Private School Vouchers Concerns 

Another challenge facing the charter movement in 
0 hio is the strong connection between charter schools 
and vouchers in the state. 

0 hio is one of just three states to currently have a 
publicly funded voucher program in place. The state's 
private school voucher program is currently limited to 
Cleveland, though a privately funded voucher program 
is flourishing in D ayton. A broader voucher initiative 
may be considered by the state Legislature in 2005. 

Historically, some of Ohio's mostprominent voucher 
advocates are the same people who have championed 
charter schools. Several of the state's charter schools were 
originally created as voucher schools or are run by 
organizations that advocate vouchers. 

Most prominent among these aU-purpose school 
choice advocates is D avid Brennan, the president of White 
Hat Management Company in Akron, Ohio. Brennan, 
the single most visible proponent of charter schools in 
the state, is alightningrodfor charter school opponents.™ 
White H at currently operates 33 charter schools, including 
19 Life Skills Centers, 13 Hope Academy charter schools, 
and one online charter school. Brennan is also a highly 
visible voucher advocate, and several White Hat schools 
were converted from private voucher schools. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 29 

As a result, charter schools and vouchers are often 
referred to in the same breath. "Cleveland is losing $43 
mMon to charters, and another $18 million to support 
the voucherprogram," says 0 FT President Tom Mooney. 
He calls what has h^pened to charter schools in Ohio 
and other places "a great idea for smaller more 
autonomous schools that has been hijacked by people 
whose idea is to privatize pubhc education." 

Not everyone believes that the presence of 
voucher initiatives is necessarily an obstacle for charters. 
In some cases, voucher programs have over time 
become less controversial. And some charter 
proponents argue that these initiatives help charters by 

starkly illustrating the differences between charters and 
vouchers, and making pubhc charter schools seem hke 
the less radical and more acceptable form of school 

The charter-voucher connection in 0 hio could 
become even tighter during the 2005-2006 legislative 
session. According to Sally Perz, charter school issues 
are much more partisan now than they were seven 
years ago when charters were first created. Repubhcans, 
who still retain control, are by and large much more 
conservative than in the past. And Perz thinks that a 
voucher bill may be seriously considered by the 
Legislature during the upcoming session. 


Policy Recommendations 

Build the Q uality and Supply of 
Charter Schools 

□ Increase Funding 

Some important progress is being made to increase 
state aid for charter schools. Charter schools recently 
became eligible for state compensatory education aid 
under a parity aid program designed to help schools 
with substantial percentages of low-income children. 

However, more is needed. Some of the legislative 
solutions that have been investigated include initiatives 
that would fund charter schools directly from the state, 
give charter school students a share of local property 
tax funds that are currently unavailable, create a charter 
school start-up fund, and dedicate a certain percentage 
of state facilities funding to charter school purchases, 
leases, or renovations. 

□ Protect and Promote "Mom and Pop" Charter 

While nonprofit and for-profit education 
management organizations (E MO ) have many advantages, 
growft of these options should not come at the expense 
of "mom and pop" charter schools. The political and 
practical importance of stand-alone charter schools is 
apparent to many charter school advocates, especially in 
the area of encouraging new educational innovations and 
community involvement. Stand-alone teacher- and 
community- created charters are a core expectation of 
educators and the pubhc. 

In part, better funding would help address this need, 
as win better charter school authorizing practices. 0 ther 
strategies at the state or local levels include: creating special 
programs to train newcomers to the charter school 
movement; supporting efforts by current independent 
charters in training newcomers; creating incubators for 
new, independent charter school organizations; expanding 
outreach to community-based organizations; and 
providing enhanced technical and practical support. A 
project of the Thomas B. Fordham Formdation, D ayton- 

based Keys to Improving Dayton Schools, Inc.(KlDS), 
provides technical support and "backroom" services (such 
as payroll, financial services, and marketing support) to 
charter schools on a fee-for-service basis. That allows 
small, independent charter schools to benefit from 
economies of scale as districts do. Eleven Dayton-area 
schools now use K ID S' services, but additional providers 
are essential for meeting the needs of a wider range of 
Ohio charters and creating a competitive market for 
backroom services. 

□ Allow Charter Schools to Spread Statewide 

0 hio 's charter law currently allows conversion charter 
schools throughout the state but limits new charters to 
academically distressed areas The state Legislature should 
amend the law to allow for the creation of new charters 
anywhere in the state. "There's an ^petite to open charters 
in other places," says Clint Satow, a consultant to Ohio 
Charter Schools Association (0 CSA), "but the students 
[just] don't have access." He cites the dwindling number 
of ehgible districts and the dangers of saturation in some 
places while others have no charter school options at aU. 

□ Encourage Proven Charter Schools Models 
to Enter the State 

Another promising step would be to recruit more 
model charter schools such as K IPP (Knowledge is Power 
Program) Academy from otherpartsof the country. These 
proven models could bring added legitimacy and expertise 
to the Ohio charter school movement. 

Steps toward achieving this goal include inviting 
successful national charter school programs to visit the 
state, recruiting model charter school networks to consider 
applying for a charter, or directly supporting development 
of model charter schools in several areas of the state. 

□ District-Sponsored Charter Schools 

Support and acceptance of charter schools has 
grown in some states where districts have become 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 31 

directly involved in successful charter school efforts. 
Already some observers in 0 hio beheve that the growing 
number of traditional districts and education service 
centers that are no w becoming sponsors will help improve 
collaboration. The continued availability of federal start- 
up funding will also promote district involvement 

Charter supporters should actively recruit local 
school districts to sponsor established charter schools 
in their districts. Many schools need new sponsors due 
to changes in the 2003 law. To sweeten the pot, the 
state can provide ongoing or additional incentives to 
districts that sponsor charter schools past the length 
of the federal start-up funding, 

□ Encourage Outside Support 

Historically there has been httle outside involvement 
or support in expending the charter school movement 
in 0 hio. E ducation groups, think tanks, and rmiversities 
in the state have not focused on charter schools, 
participated in creating charter schools, or supported 
them in large numbers. In addition, until very recently, 
few major national foundations or research 
organizations have been involved in charter schools in 

Increased support from the private sector is an 
area that many observers cite as necessary to the 
ongoing health of charter schools in Ohio. The 
presence of these organizations would provide a 
combination of legitimacy, expertise, and additional 
funding. Education organizations could be recruited 
directly as sponsors or more indirectly as providers 
of assistance and support in various areas of the state. 
The 0 hio Charter School Sponsor Institute, established 
by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Ohio 
Foundation for School Choice, with support from the 
Walton and G ates formdations and N ational Association 
of Charter School Authorizers, is a promising step 
toward leveraging greater outside philanthropic and 
nonprofit support for Ohio charter schools. 

Strengthen Accountability and 
Improve Oversight of Charter Schools 

□ Require Timeiy, Useful Data and Research 

Better and more transparent performance data is 
a must for Ohio. The lack of information about the 
quality of charter schools in Ohio is cause for serious 

concern. Lack of data makes it easy for charter 
opponents to attack charters, but also leaves 
policymakers ill-positioned to ensure high-quality 
charter schools. The state is already required to provide 
an annual report on charter schools. (The most recent 
one was submitted in December 2003.^') Those 
requirements should be enhanced. The state should 
provide aggregate information on all charter schools 
in the state along with the individual school report cards 
it provides each fall for aU public schools to comply 
with the federal N o Child Left Behind Act. This report 
should include a comparison between charter school 
demographics and performance, and the 
demographics and performance of traditional districts 
of similar nature. Funds should also be set aside for 
quality independent evaluation and research based on 
that data. 

As it stands, very httle is known about the real 
financial impact on school systems. "We don't have 
any strong neutral analytical ability in the state," says 
former Cleveland Foundation program officer Bill 
McKersie. "We need better information," he says. This 
type of research and policy recommendation function 
could come from the state, the OCSA, or an 
independent research center a university or think tank, 

□ Attract High-Quality Sponsors 

"So much of it comes down to making sure that 
the people who are sponsoring the schools have the 
capacity and motivation to do it well," says the U.S. 
D epartment of Education's Michael Petrilli about the 
importance of recruiting and screening sponsors. 
"What's important is that the authorizers do that job, 
take it seriously, and have the resources to do it well." 

Simply generating more sponsors does not 
necessarily mean better sponsorship. In fact, 
competition among sponsors can create some 
perverse incentives, including limited school oversight 
by sponsors and low-ball fee structures that make 
substantive technical assistance all but impossible. 
Multiple sponsors also create opportunities for schools 
to game the system by pitting sponsors against each 

Hopes remain high that the 2003 law will prompt 
a new wave of sponsoring organizations to replace 
the state, and that the screening process for nonprofits 
that want to become sponsors will foster innovation 
and excellence. The recently created Ohio Charter 


School Sponsor Institute is providing a national model 
for efforts to build a class of high-quality authorizers. 
But it may take additional steps to juice the process. 
Statutory changes may be needed to entice more 
nonprofits into the sponsorship business. Possible fees 
include start-up funding for new sponsors, setting 
sponsorship fees so that nonprofits can afford to 
participate, and creating habihty limits for nonprofits 
to protect their endowments and board members. 
Some amendments to the state law have already been 
proposed and await further action. 

Improve Political Support and 

The Ohio Charter Schools Association is clearly 
struggling with the need to develop and maintain the 
capacity to fight a political battle in addition to carrying 
out its other roles. In addition, the association may 

need to consider changes in strategy that would allow 
it to respond more forcefully to the charges made 
against charter schools in the state. Specifically, 0 C SA has 
been reluctant to highhght the challenges of educating 
disadvantaged and minority students for fear of 
stereotyping them or suggesting lowered expectations. 

Increased financial and institutional support would 
strengthen 0 CSA, which currently represents less than 
one-half of the charter schools in the state and has 
struggled to persuade policymakers and the public to 
support the charter school movement. With additional 
support, the association could be a more forceful 
advocate for charter schools and engage more 
substantively in accountability and quality issues, while 
providing a unified voice for charter schools in the 
state. "Charter schools are popular with parents and 
deserve more support from powerful friends than 
they have thus far received," writes Terry Ryan of the 
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.^^ 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 33 


"After going through some predictable growing 
pains, the charter school movement has been 
established in the state," says Ohio Department of 
E ducation charter schools director Steve Burigana. 
"The schools are much better established. They are 
starting to show some real promise. A larger number 
of traditional districts have now engaged [in the 
charter school movement] as sponsors, which will 
strengthen the educational value of charters and also 
allow for a collaborative approach." 

Burigana hopes that the Legislature will let the new 
law, now entering its second full year of operation, 
run its course before making any additional changes. 
"There is a much greater level of compliance and 
success," he says. The Department of Education has 
implemented an online reporting system, which allows 
the schools and the state to monitor key attendance, 
financial, and other data, and it conducts document 

audits to catch any errors before they turn into large 

Burigana is not alone in his optimism. "Charter 
schooling is on as firm a ground as it's ever been," says 
Rep. Jon Husted (R), noting that the 2003 law was the 
first freestanding charter school law passed in the state. 
School districts like those in Dayton and Columbus 
are actively courting charter schools that might need 
new sponsors, according to Husted. "This shows our 
success," he says. "Now they want to be a part of it." 

The overall success of charter schools in Ohio, 
however, lies somewhere between claims of the most 
diehard supporters and opponents. Policymakers in 
0 hio should continue to support these schools, which 
have the potential to expand educational opportunity 
for disadvantaged students, but they must also actively 
work to ensure that these schools are as much about 
quality as they are about choice for parents. 



* "Community School Funding Report 2005," Ohio Department of Education, September 24, 2004, http:/ / 
sdiool_ options/ F 2 005/ D efault.asp; Ramsey, Stephen, "State of Ohio Charter Schools," Ohio Charter Schools Association, March 28, 

^ Un-attributed quotes in this report were taken from personal conversations with and interviews by the author. 

^ Ohio State Department of Education. 

^ Amended House Bill 215. 

^ Antonnuci, Michael, "Where Have All the New Unionists G one?" Education Intelligence Agency, June 16, 2004. 

® Amended Substitute Senate Bill 55. 

’ The University of Toledo eventually created an entity called the Ohio Council of Community Schools for this purpose. 

« House Bill 282. 

® Willard, Dennis]., and D oug 0 plinger, "Whose Choice?" (four-part series), A kron Beamn Journal, 2000. 

“ Archer, Jeff, "More Oversight Sought Eor Ohio School Choice," E ducation Wedc, January 19, 2000, http:/ / ml 
ewstory.(fm?slug= 19choice.hl9. 

” Sack, Joette, "Ohio Charters Targeted in Election Politics," E ducation Wedc, September 18, 2002. 

G ehiing, John, "Audit Spurs D rive to Revamp 0 hio's Charter School System," E ducation W edc , February 27, 2002, http:/ / www.edwedc .org/ 
ml newstory.(fm?slug= 24charter.h2 1 . 

"2002 Auditor's Report on Community Schools," http:/ / RPIE / PD F/ approvd ode_community_schools_01_ 

The changes were enacted in HB 364 and HB 3. 

"Ohio Students Continue to Achieve at Higher Levels," Ohio Department of Education, August 24, 2004. 

“ Ohio Office of Community Schools, http:/ / community_ schools/ . 

” Gonz, Jennifer, "Many Charter Schools Here Struggling," Clevdand Plain D ealer, August 27, 2004. 

Senate Bill 212 and House Bill 447. 

Ramsey, Stephen, "State of Ohio Charter Schools," Ohio Charter Schools Association, March 28, 2004. 

Ohio Department of Education, "Ohio Department of Education Fact Sheet," 2004. 

Ramsey, op. dt 

Satow, Clint, "2003-2004 Report Card Data," (unpublished analysis), Ohio Charter Schools Association, September 2004. 


2^ "Cyber Charter Schools," Education Commission of the States, May 2003, http:/ / dearinghousd 44/ 13/ 4413.htm. 

23 "Fordham Takes Lead on Charter Schools," D ayton D aily N ews, September 13, 2004. 

23 Satow, op. dt. 

22 "Ohio Charter School Fact Sheet," Ohio Coalition for Public Education, August 2004. 

2® "Community Schools in Ohio: Final Report on Student Performance, Parent Satisfaction, and Accountability," Legislative Office 
of Education Oversight, December 2003, http:// reports/ PreEleSecPDF/CS_Final_Wd).pdf. 

22 Ibid. 

3“ Ibid. 

31 Ibid. 

32 Ibid. 

33 "Interactive Local Report Cards: Community Schools Rating Data. School Years 2003-04," Ohio State Department of Education, 
http:/ / D ownloads.asp. 

3^ Ohio schools receive accountabihty designations based on either their performance on state report card indicators, or weighted 
Performance Index Scores (PIS), which give added weight for students performing at advanced levels. In addition, schools in the 
lowest two brackets can move up a level if their PIS scores have increased during the past two years, and schools that make adequate 
yearly progress (AYP) under the N o Child Left Behind Act automatically receive at least Continuous Improvement ratings. Because 
the threshold percentages of students who must score at the proficient level for schools to make AYP in 2003-2004 was lower for 
many indicators than the percentage required by the state report card measure for Continuous Improvement, it was possible that 
schools that otherwise would have been designated Academic Watch could be designated Continuous Improvement during the past 
two years. But, as the proficient target for AYP rises, this will cease to occur. 

33 "Ohio Department of Education 2003-2004 Report Card," Ohio Charter Schools Association, http:/ / rqrortard/ 
state_ report_ card/ src2 0 0 4.pdf. 

ATou^ Nut to Crack 35 

Hoxby, Caroline, "A Straightforward Comparison of Charter Schools and Regular Public Schools in the United States," Harvard 
University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, September 2004, http:/ / faculty/ hoxby/ papers/ 

3’ Ibid. 

3® "Community Schools in 0 hio," op. dt. 

33 Ryan, Terry "A Wide-Angle Look at the Charter School Movement in 0 hio/ D ayton. Circa September 2004," Thomas B. Fordham 
Foundation, September 2004, http:/ / doc/ CharterSchools D ayton_0hio2004.pdf. 

Sandham, Jessica, "Challenges to Charter Laws Mount," Education Week, May 2, 2001, 
ewstory.cfm?slug= 3 3charter.h2 0 . 

D eRolph V. Ohio, 2001. 

^3 Welsh- Huggins, Andrew, "Charter Schools Suit Reinstated," The Cindnnati E nquirer, August 26, 2004. 

^3 "OCSA rejects the Ohio Education Association Funding Analysis," Ohio Charter Schools Association, Summer 2004, http:/ / 

“ Hassel, Bryan, and Michelle G odard Terrell, "School Finance in D ayton: A Comparison of the Revenues of the School D istrict and 
Community Schools," Thomas B. Fordham Institute, March 2004, http:/ / www.edexoellencand;. 

^3 "Charter Schools Encounter Location Challenges," Associated Press, July 19, 2004. 

Hassel, Bryan, and Michelle G odard Terrell, op. dt. 

Wheeler, Kim, "Cleveland Schools Question Charter School Enrollment," Catalyst Clevdand, May 12, 2004. 

"Info Missing on Charter Schools," Cincinatti Enquirer, August 27, 2004, 
20040827_CindE nquirer.htm. 
eRolph V. Ohio, 2001. 

3" Pell, Eve, "The Charter School Magnate," Salon, May 24, 2000, http:/ / 

3* Ohio State Department of Education, "2002-2003 Annual Report on Ohio Community Schools," (unpublished), December 2003. 
33 Ryan, Terry, "A Wide-Angle Look at the Charter School Movement in 0 hio/ D ayton. Circa September 2004," Thomas B. Fordham 
Foundation, September 2004, http:/ / doc/ CharterSchools D ayton_0hio2004.pdf. 

About the Author 

Alexander Russo is a Chicago-based education writer, editor, and commentator whose work has appeared in Slate, 
The Washington Monthly, Education Next, and the Harvard Education Letter. He is a regular contributor on Chicago 
Public Radio and has appeared on National Public Radio and other nationally syndicated radio shows. He wrote and 
edited “School Reform In Chicago: Lessons in Policy and Practice" (Harvard Education Publishing Group 2004). He 
authors a weekly Internet column, “This Week In Education,” ( Previously, Russo was 
a classroom teacher in Los Angeles and a policy advisor in the U.S. Senate and at the New York City Board of 


The author wishes to thank all of those who helped with the preparation of this report by submitting to extensive 
interviews and providing unpublished information. Thanks go to, in particular: Steve Ramsey, Clint Satow, and John 
Rothwell of the Ohio Charter Schools Association; Tom Mooney of the Ohio Federation of Teachers; Checker Finn 
and Terry Ryan of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; Sally and Allison Perz, Rep. Jon Husted, Steve Burigana and 
J.C. Benton of the Ohio State Department of Education; Andy Bensin of KnowledgeWorks Foundation; Joe Nathan 
of the University of Minnesota; John Witte of the University of Wisconsin; Andy Smarick of the Charter School 
Leadership Council; Mike Petrilli of the U.S. Department of Education; former Cleveland Foundation program offi- 
cer Bill McKersie; Perry White of Citizens’ Academy; Lydia Harris of Hope Academy Broadway; and Jeffrey Forster of 
the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. 

Thanks also to Sara Mead, Renee Rybak, Andrew Rotherham, and Kate Blosveren of the Progressive Policy Institute 
for their invaluable editorial and research assistance, as well as for the opportunity to work on this project. 


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